Sun, 27 Jul 2008 Feature Article

Can a Judge Ever be Said to be a Disgrace to the Legal Profession? Wonders Will Never Cease at Kumawu.

Can a Judge Ever be Said to be a Disgrace to the Legal Profession? Wonders Will Never Cease at Kumawu.

Is it true that Kumawu is accursed? Almost nothing good is heard about this ancient Ashanti town except for the fact of one Tweneboa Kodua I, their most famous chief dying as a sacrificial lamb to save the Asante Kingdom. All the news coming from this stagnating ancient town is bad; and very bad indeed. Either it is about their tomboy queen pummelling her subjects, or the inhabitants succumbing to cholera outbreak, or their MP being incompetent and bribing his way out to get nominated again, or their presiding Circuit court Judge delivering outrageous verdicts. All these sufferable punishments are symptoms of an accursed people or town. Therefore, Kumawu is jinxed probably for the fact of ignoring Okomfo Anokye's proscriptions. Have they incurred the displeasure of this famed powerful Ashanti fetish priest? Why don't they get on their knees to supplicate the Ever-forgiving God the Father Almighty to rid the town and the people of any such curse if there was any?

Once the late High Court Justice Agyepong of ever blessed memory, one of the three Accra High Court judges callously murdered by Ex-President J.J. Rawlings under his PNDC regime, said in response to a question posed by his nephew Emmanuel Marfo (Kwame Nyame), also a departed soul, "Some judges in spite of having studied abroad and acquired higher degrees, they cannot still deliver fair judgement". This intelligent statement from an honest judge, who was made to suffer premature death under the hands of Rawlings because of his honesty, speaks volume about the present Kumawu Circuit Court judge. To say the least about the precarious judgements of this judge, the better. To say Justice Agyepong's statement does not reflect very badly on the Circuit Court judge will be an understatement. I will discuss only two of his numerous anemic judgements portraying him either as corrupt or incapable of his profession.
Firstly, a young married teacher aspiring to pursue higher University education at Legon was compelled to forego his dreams after admission. He had invested all his savings from his number of years teaching, and bank loans in what is currently called "Spot". You can call it a pub, beer bar, beer parlour or whatever you want. His investment was done in the hope that it would create an employment for his young wife to raise money to cater for the family and his education.

The structure for his commercial activity had been built on his purchased piece of building plot at Etia, about 200 metres away from the boundaries of the Tweneboa Kodua Secondary School. He had obtained a certificate of permission for his venture from the Kumawu Local Council. A councillor had visited the site, ascertained the suitability of the site for the activity upon which the requisite fee was paid the Council. The Council then issued a certificate of permission to the applicant to construct and operate the "spot".

Barely a month into operation, the "spot" was ordered to be closed down by the Judge in question. The "Spot" was not only closed down but the young man was fined 400 GH New Cedis (4M Old Cedis) payable immediately, in default of which he was to go to prison for two years in hard labour. The poor man's relatives had to run the length and breadth of Kumawu raising a pesewa from here, and a Cedi from there, until they came up with the Court fine to set the captive free from the clutches of this disgusting judge.

According to the judge, he had received about ten letters from the Headmaster of the Kumawu Tweneboa Kodua Secondary School complaining about the beer bar. The District Chief Executive (DCE), Hon. Philip Basoah, was each time copied the letter sent to the judge but never did he bother to intervene in any meaningful way until the beer bar was shut down on the orders of the judge. According to the judge, the Headmaster had claimed to have sacked about fifteen students. They were caught drinking at the bar upon which accusation the parochial-minded judge felt the need not only to close down the bar but to fine the man or send him to two years incarceration. This is a travesty of justice!

I have a few questions to ask in setting the record straight. Did the Headmaster himself find the sacked students in the beer bar or it was reported to him by a third person? At what time of the day were they caught hanging around the beer bar if they did at all? Were they drinking and if in the affirmative, was it alcohol or soft drink? Can the Headmaster provide the names of the students involved if it does not infringe any Data protection act? Are students in Ghana allowed to, or not allowed to, frequent beer bars for any reason? What is Ghana's age of consent for students to purchase or not to purchase alcohol? Did the Headmaster prior to bombarding the Court and the DCE with letters somehow conveyed his displeasure to the bar operator? Why was the bar operator not copied the letters being sent to the judge? Does the Headmaster know if he was civilized, to have at least once written to, or copied the operator letters he was sending about him? Was the Headmaster concerned about the nearness of the bar to the school, hence triggering the action he took? Is drinking at a bar without misbehaving a gross misconduct punishable by expulsion? Has the Headmaster travelled abroad before? Are Secondary schools to be relocated when towns and cities grow or expand to their borders? Or, are commercial activities to cease within a specified distance of say two hundred metres from the vicinity of Secondary schools, Colleges, or Universities? Does he know how nearer commercial activities including beer bars are to some schools in overseas? What would have been his preferable distance of the bar from the school? I can keep on and on asking him questions but none of which he can answer in any intelligent way. I am myself a product of Tweneboa Kodua Secondary School so I know where I am coming from.

The judge was provided all the documentary evidences granting the operator permission to site and operate his beer bar from the allocated land. The judge is said to have uttered, "If the Council did approve the site for the venture after their visit, why then is the Headmaster clamouring like this?" What would a sensible, selfless, legal academia do in this regard? Neither the Headmaster nor his representative of any sort did attend court to be questioned on that fateful day yet the misfit judge out of indecency gave that infamous judgement. He never knew that by trying to appease the Headmaster by that most insane judgement, he was proving his incompetence in the eyes of many a literate and wise people. If he is really capable of his profession, he should have stated to the Headmaster that the bar owner is operating within his legal right. Then he should have suggested to the Headmaster to seek a private way forward with the man rather than behaving irresponsibly as he did.

Secondly, this same judge never ceases to amaze me with his hair wrenching judgements. An old lady of about 80+ took a farm help to the Police station. The guy was charged and arraigned before this judge in question. For almost two and a half years, the case pending before the court was kept postponing on fortnight basis until as usual, the judge's once more silly verdict was pronounced about two weeks ago.

The dear old lady had hastened to issue a claim against the farm help, in this case the defendant. She had not desired to resort to pre-action protocol. If she had, it would have revealed the senselessness in instituting any claim against the man in the first place. The man is simply a farm worker. How then can the lady claim the land he works on from him, he being only a labourer, without taking the actual landowner she knows very well to Court? The landowner, resident overseas and very friendly with the old lady, is said to have once admonished her on the case. He had told her, "Nana, you had better cease pursuing this guy in Court. Let us seek amicable solution to the issue outside the Court. For even if you win the case against the labourer, you have yet to win the land. You have then to contest me in Court over the ownership of the land". The old lady is said to have appealed to the "burger" to initiate any such move. But "burgers" always busy as usual to do a lot in their short annual monthly holiday to Ghana, this man was more than busy to have time to go about the case as suggested. He once went to the Court to find the judge had not turned up, had postponed the case well in advance without bothering to notify the litigants. That annoyed him so much that he never bothered wasting his time going back to the Court anymore.

The old lady had initially failed to avail herself of any of the "alternative dispute resolution" schemes including things like arbitration and mediation. She straight away headed for the police station and then the Court. The judge had for two years obtained witness statements. The required documentary proofs were submitted. He had requested for a statement from the late Barima Asumadu Sakyi II, the paramount chief of Kumawuman, attesting to whom he had sold the land. It was given and taken to the judge. Every proof to the contrary as being claimed by the dear old lady was given yet, the judge could not have the decency to pronounce judgement but to keep on adjourning the case.. What does it mean?

It is the judgement that needs to catch your attention. The Court after two and a half years, made an order leading to her statement of claim being "struck out", meaning the Court case was quashed on the grounds of the lady instituting the Court action against the wrong person. In his reading, he said something like, "this man is only a labourer working for pay. The land does not belong to him. Therefore it is wrong to institute any Court action seeking the ownership of the land against him. The action should have rather been taken against the owner of the land". However, he fined the labourer but not the old lady, GH New Cedis 100 (1M Old Cedis). He was asked to pay it immediately or go to prison in hard labour for one year. As he had no money, he was taken to remand for a day for onward journey to one year imprisonment. The next morning, the landowner's family in Ghana raised the money to help set the captive free. Why was rather the defendant but not the complainant/plaintiff charged for instituting the senseless and time wasting Court case in the first place? Why the woman was not charged even a farthing towards the Court costs let alone paying for the defendant's charges? Why did the judge delay the case for all these years while still having all the proofs before him? Had he not accepted bribe from the wrong party in the case and so found it difficult to pronounce any sound judgement for all these years? What do you readers and his fellow lawyers, judges, law students etc, learn and conclude from this? If I had my own way, I would say he is a disgrace to the law profession. He has to be investigated and possibly relieved of his post. His judgements are quite unreasonable. Whether he is influenced by bribes or not, by his judgements, he is unfit to preside over any further Court cases. Period!

John Fosu, USA